The British Invasion of the 1960s did more than start a worldwide music phenomenon; it spawned a cultural phenomenon as well. As the artists’ fame grew so did the locations where they bought their clothes, the food they ate, and the books they read. As a result, Carnaby Street became as familiar in Los Angeles as it was in London. Fans devoured every aspect of the bands’ history.
In a short period of time, the clubs that were the early “home” to the most popular British music groups saw their own fame rise to mythical proportions. Clubs like The Cavern, The Marquee and The Hippodrome became tourist attractions and were icons in the performing arts world.
The Cavern Club
When Alan Sytner opened the club in early 1957, he had no interest in rock and roll. The Cavern Club was modeled after the Parisian basement jazz clubs. The former World War II air raid shelter, with its numerous tunnels and arches, seemed like the perfect spot for Liverpudlians to enjoy drinks and jazz.
The club’s rise to infamy began when a skiffle band called the Quarrymen played as the bridge act between the jazz headliners. John Lennon broke into an Elvis Presley cover and almost ended the band’s chances of ever playing in the club again. Fortunately, Sytner continued to book the Quarryman. Eventually Paul McCartney and George Harrison played at the club.
When Sytner sold the club in 1959, the new owner added a weekly “Beat” night; one of the first bands to play was Roy Storm and the Hurricanes, with drummer Ringo Star.
The Beatles played in Hamburg clubs for most of 1960 and returned to the Cavern Club in 1961, which had evolved into a mostly rock and roll and blues club. Over the next two years they played at the club almost 300 times.
The club also booked acts like The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, the Who, and The Kinks. In addition to becoming one of the favorite clubs for rock fans, it also became a home for record company executives looking for groups to help them capitalize on the booming rock and roll scene.
In 1973, the Cavern Club was closed and filled in as part of a railway construction project.
The Cavern Club was reopened by new owner Liverpool football star Tommy Smith in 1984. The new club was opened in the same location as the original. Many of the bricks from the original club had been saved. While 5,000 of the bricks were sold in a charity auction, Smith used the rest in the rebuilding of the club using the original design.
Smith only managed to keep the club going until 1989. After being closed for 18 months, two friends – one a taxi driver and the other a schoolteacher – reopened the club. They continue to operate the club today, which in addition to being a tourist attraction, continues to offer live music seven days a week.
Paul McCartney returned to perform at the Cavern Club in 1999. The new wave of superstars, like the Artic Monkeys and Oasis, have performed at the historic club. The bricks behind the front room stage have the names of the acts that performed at the club impressed on them.
The London Hippodrome
The Hippodrome’s history dates back much further than the Cavern Club. “Hippodrome” was a popular name in the UK in the early 1900s. The London Hippodrome is the only venue which has retained the name. The London Hippodrome was opened in 1900 as a home for musical events and circus performance. The club featured a 100,000 gallon water tank that was used in productions. The lower floors were designed to accommodate elephants and other large circus animals.
By 1909 the Hippodrome had been remodeled as a music hall and theatre. Like the Cavern Club, the Hippodrome was primarily a jazz club and hosted London’s first official jazz performance in 1919.
The venue underwent another round of remodeling in 1958, when the entire interior was demolished and rebuilt as a nightclub called “The Talk of the Town.” From the club’s opening until it closed in 1982, the top performers of the day, from Frank Sinatra to AC/DC, took the stage.
The venue reopened in 1983 and once again began to host private events, concerts and theatrical performances. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, new owners focused more on theatrical performances, including adult cabaret and burlesque.
The latest chapter in the music hall’s famed history began in 2009 when new leaseholders took over and began to fashion the Hippodrome into a casino and entertainment venue. The new owners’ restoration project included taking the venue back to the original 1900 designs, minus the water tank.
The casino, which opened its doors in 2012, has won numerous awards for design and service and is has been named The Best Land Based Casino in the UK by Totally Gaming. The casino’s poker room is operated in partnership with the world’s largest online poker site, PokerStars, an always-expanding brand (who recently opened their own online casino) that has brought worldwide attention to the London Hippodrome by making it a stop on their popular UK & Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT).
The Marquee Club
The only one of the main historic English music venues that is not still in operation in some form is the Marquee Club. Like the other two clubs, The Marquee started life as a jazz and skiffle club in 1958. During the early days, Alexis Kroner was a resident performer and Muddy Waters was among the greats who played at the club on their regular “R&B” night.
Even though it was a small club, its place in music history is well deserved. The Rolling Stones played their first concert ever at the club in 1962. Over the next two decades, the list of artists that took the stage as resident performers reads like a who’s who of rock. Manfred Mann performed over 100 times; Pink Floyd played on Sunday afternoons; Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Who were also regulars. The band Mannish Boy, led by David Bowie, started at the Marquee in 1964 and Fleetwood Mac made their concert debut at the club in 1967.
The club also proved adept at changing with the times. The biggest artists to emerge from the Punk, New Wave, Heavy Metal and Progressive movements became staples of the Marquee lineup, with artist like Joy Division, XTC, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Marillion, and The Cure joining the already historic roster of performers.
The club was also famous for its “secret” gigs by performers appearing under different names, including Prince, Metallica, and Genesis, just to name a few.
The end of the Marquee began in 1988 when Rod Stewart’s manager purchased the club which had to be relocated. While the new venue was larger and did attract some big names and future stars, it appeared that the Marquee “magic” was gone.
The Club closed in 1996, and is now the site of a pub.
A group of investors including Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart bought the Marquee name and reopened in Islington, but it only survived one year. Another group tried to revive the Marquee in the West End and suffered a similar fate. The third and final attempt to resurrect the Marquee happened in 2007 in Covent Garden, but closed about six months later.